SOLANA BEACH — While picking up a train passenger at the Solana Beach station, Councilman Dave Roberts noticed an empty beer bottle and other litter beside an outdoor stairway.
Little did he expect that 18 months later his observation would evolve into the prototype for a countywide program to promote public transportation, especially during this time of rising gas prices and increased environmental awareness.
After noticing the trash, Roberts called Matt Tucker, executive director of North County Transit District, which owns the property. Roberts said Tucker told him NCTD does its best to keep stations litter-free, but “they don’t eyes and ears all the time.”
Recalling the familiar adopt-a-freeway signs, Roberts suggested a similar program for transit stations. “Matt said, ‘Let me think about it,’” Roberts said.
Not long after that conversation, NCTD staff members coincidentally pitched the same idea to Tucker, who then decided to run with it. He recommended starting with the Solana Beach station.
Roberts, who by then was president of the newly formed Del Sol Lions, suggested that club take on the project, although it became a collaboration between that group, the city and local and business community leaders, Roberts said.
“We had to create rules,” he said. “We had to do it so there was no cost to NCTD for signage.”
In addition to gathering once a month to pick up trash, club members will promote public transportation. “We may pass out fliers and encourage events at the station or enhance it during art walk,” Roberts said. The group is considering a rotating public art display, similar to what is done at City Hall.
The Lions will also provide feedback to NCTD to improve the site. “We may see things that don’t make sense,” Roberts said. For example, as a result of feedback, an overhang was installed on the outside ticket kiosk to prevent sun glare.
The partnership is a win-win for both organizations, Roberts said.
“NCTD wants to be community oriented,” he said. “The Del Sol Lions are interested in environmental issues.”
A May 11 ceremony was held at the station to formally announce the partnership, which is valid for one year. Other organizations are encouraged to follow suit. The cost to each nonprofit partner is $150, which pays for signs. Members must also complete a transit station safety course.
The success of the program will be measured by community engagement with the property and the amount of feedback NCTD receives.
“We want the local community to utilize the station and take ownership,” Roberts said. “We’re excited to be the prototype. There are very few examples around the country.”
Roberts said since the announcement at an NCTD board meeting, Encinitas and Escondido have shown interest in the program. “But for us to be No. 1 is cool,” he said.
Melba Novoa, NCTD’s senior community relations supervisor, said from a transit point of view, each station is considered a community asset. It is the first part of the city tourists see if they are arriving by train.
“We want to partner with the cities to build a stronger relationship and more of a connection,” she said. “We want to give organizations an opportunity to share in that ownership.”
Novoa said NCTD is trying to use stations to “bring the community there to share a good time.” Recent examples include a choir performance at the Palomar College station, a Halloween event in Carlsbad and performances by Academy of Performing Arts members in Vista.
“We want people to know NCTD is not just a train going by,” she said. “We are part of the community.”